Introducing Urban Crofters
In January 2019 Bishop June licensed Revd. Will Souter as the vicar of a new church plant in the Roath area of Cardiff called Urban Crofters. Here, Will introduces us to this new church, its story and vision.
The story so far
My wife Jude and I moved from leading a church in Horsham, West Sussex to the diocese in 2011, in response to an unexpected but distinct sense of call to Cardiff which had been growing for a number of years. I spent the first two years after the move training as a science teacher so that I could pursue the model of bi-vocational ministry; I currently do science and maths tutoring as my paid work while I lead the church on a non-stipendiary basis. Needless to say, this brings with it an interesting series of advantages and disadvantages, opportunities and limitations.
How did Urban Crofters begin?
The first two years of training to be a science teacher absorbed most of my time and energy and so I didn’t feel I was in a position to offer help with ministry in the diocese. I then spent three years assisting the mission of St. John’s in the city centre. During this time, I sensed God leading us to start a new church based around missional communities – small groups based in homes that are intentionally focused around outreach to spiritual seekers. In October 2016, we started our first missional community with two other families and from that initial group of 15 we have grown to around 50 people (including children) meeting now in four different homes.
When we grew to around 40 or so meeting in different places at different times, we began to recognise that we needed to be able to meet together once a week for gathered worship and to foster a sense of our connectedness as one church family.
We were aware of the then redundant St. Anne’s Church building in Roath being a possible home for us since we had attended its final service on Christmas Eve in 2015 before it closed down. Its location close to our home and the layout of its hall and adjoining rooms were ideal for our practical needs and so we started exploring the idea of opening the church up again with diocesan staff.
From the very beginning our vision has been to use the building as a missional hub where we could host a whole range of events which would help connect people together.
When we shared our story and vision with Bishop June in the summer of 2018, she encouraged us to pursue the possibility of re-opening St. Anne’s with Archdeacon Peggy Jackson. After an autumn of meetings and discussions, Bishop June created a new conventional district (a church without a geographical parish) based at St. Anne’s in January 2019. After eight months of practical preparations, we started two Sunday morning services from September 2019: a 9am eucharist and a 10.30am informal service aiming at being accessible for guests.
What is a missional community
These midweek communities aim to offer a friendly welcome to interested guests who want to explore the Christian faith in greater depth in the relaxed and informal setting of someone’s home. Our meetings last for two hours. The first hour is always spent enjoying a two course meal together followed by a second hour of discussion. These discussions explore a variety of themes, for example, hearing about inspiring missional projects around the world, sharing our life stories, exploring what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century and studying the Bible together. Members of the group are encouraged to invite friends, neighbours and work mates along who are spiritually curious and interested. We like to summarise these groups as being “family on mission”.
The aim is providing a manageable stepping stone into faith which for some is less daunting than the bigger leap into attending a church service.
It’s interesting to see how church attendance has grown during the pandemic. Could it be that guests are demonstrating both their spiritual hunger as well as their sense of nervousness about attending church services in person prior to lockdown?
Why are we called Urban Crofters?
We decided to call ourselves Urban Crofters, firstly, because our church building is situated on Crofts Street in Roath; secondly, because the model of farming through the pattern of crofting shares some key similarities with doing mission through the pattern of intentional communities: intentional growth based around a home. Thirdly, because we are working in a city context we added the word “urban” to indicate that this is a different kind of crofting from the usual countryside version.
And our title always provokes conversations with intrigued friends because they are curious why a church community should have this unusual name.
What is our vision?
In short, our vision is to develop our church building as a missional hub for activities that gather an expanding network of guests who gradually become friends. These friends can then be invited to try out a missional community meeting so that we can also grow an expanding network of midweek missional communities where people can go deeper with God. The plan is to continually multiply these midweek communities as they outgrow their present home locations.
The development of the church building is currently involving many applications to a host of grant-making trusts to raise the considerable funds necessary for the renovation of the building. We would be grateful for your prayers for this fund-raising effort.
Mission around arts and culture
Jude and I are both passionate about the arts and from the beginning we sensed God say that we should use what we love doing to develop our missional activities.
Jude is a professional cellist and runs a franchise of a business called Little Notes offering pre-schoolers an introduction to live music. Before the pandemic, this was attracting around 100 families per week into the building. Since these parents love to stay and chat together after the music sessions, we knew that we would have a steady stream of customers for a church café and so in January 2020 we opened a social enterprise café in the nave of the church serving Manumit Coffee (roasted by human traffic survivors) along with cakes and snacks prepared and served by a team of volunteers including local refugees.
We are also providing a new rehearsal space in the renovated church hall for our adult community choir and the new Cardiff Children’s Choir, along with regular evening concerts and weekend afternoon family concerts in the church, featuring a wide variety of musical genres.
We plan to host regular community cinema screenings along with screenings of popular sports and cultural events and regular cultural evenings celebrating the amazing diversity of our multi-cultural city.
Alongside these activities we also want to provide encouragement, support and training for vulnerable people including those struggling with financial hardship, mental health or isolation.
Our vision is to see Jesus transform lives through connecting people into meaningful community that is continually focused on mission.
And because we have never done church this way before, we are learning on the job as we go. It’s proving a great adventure of faith that is never easy but always an inspiring challenge.
Worship with Urban Crofters
Urban Crofters are currently usingFacebook Live for their morning worship each week at 10.30am